Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vertical Gardening for Small Spaces

I first saw a wall of vertical plants on a BBC program called Gardener's World.  The presenters are Monty Don and Carol Klein.  It is filmed in England and has been on the air since 1968.  The episode I watched was when they went to the yearly RHS Chelsea Flower show.  I thought it fun and unique, because they had this long wall of pouches, one side of wall had full sun, the other side was shade.  People visiting the flower show were encouraged to bring plants from their home to add to the wall during the 3 day event.  By the end of the show, both sides of the walls were covered; some with vegetables; flowers; ferns; ivy; endless variety, nothing planned out, just random group of plants..  I don't have a photo of the finished wall, but it turned out fantastic, so beautiful and such a cleaver idea.
In another episode of the Gardener's World, it toured a very modern house with a huge block retainer wall behind the house built against a hill.  The owner had the wall cris/crossed back and forth with wires where he placed pouches.  A year later, the photo showed the entire ugly block wall covered with greenery, it had become a space where you wanted to sit and stay.
The idea has now moved into being used inside a home, bringing the outdoors, inside.  One article said they planted edible plants and flowers.  The pouches are designed to hold the weight of the soil and plant; to allow air to flow; and I recall hearing that it is woven with drip systems.  You plug in a water connection someplace on the side and it drips every other row with water dripping from the top down.
Great ideas for small back yards; ugly fencing; a feature wall.
Or even an indoor salad bar!!!
Exciting today here in Gridley, it is raining-finally.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Farmers Having Farmer Friends

It doesn't matter what type of business you may be involved with, you always feel you need to have a bit of an edge, in some way, over the competition.  If it is sales, you need a clever ad, a secret item that will dazzle the public.  It may be a good location for customers; it may be that a company knows something about the future that his competitor doesn't know.
In farming, I have found farmer's do like to keep some "trade secrets" to themselves; but in general they are a very close and helpful group of people.  Rice farmers tend to hang out with other rice farmers; walnut growers with other walnut growers.  The big growers like to hang out with other big farmers and generally don't give much credit to small farmers.  If you grow vegetables, people who have orchards don't seem to be too interested, except if you want to talk about water or other common threads.
Frank and I have a few local farmer friends, but vegetable farming is extremely hard work and there are fewer and fewer growers of vegetables or flowers, especially farms that do all the work themselves, instead of hiring laborers. 

We do have one particular family that is very special to us.  They are the Maciel Family Farm.  The whole family work on their farm and are a very, very close and loving family.  We call them the Danny boys whenever we see them or talk about them because the senior and oldest son is named Dan (ny).  They come by to talk about farming couple times a month in the winter; we share some farming items; they advise me about different planting processes; we talk about anything and everything about farming.  The parents were born in Mexico and owned several vegetables farms before moving to California, but their children are American born.  They have been leasing property and their latest property is on E. Evans Reimer Road owned by another fabulous farming family, The Silvas who also own the Manzanita Market.  The Silva's have some land around the market and it wasn't being used.  There is a small nursery next to the market called Happy Jack Flower Shack  The Maciel Family now lease the land and their crops are beautifully grown, and they use only the most sustainable practices. Great combination of businesses.
Last year we purchased our tomato, pepper and other plants through a nursery.  We probably spent over $700 in plants.  That is a lot of money for small farmers.  Over the winter, I had been reading about "plugs" to start my added flower plants, the flats you can buy or raise your own plants as starts, 250-300 holes in flats to place seeds.  And when the plants have grown you either put in the ground or transplant.  The other day when the "Danny boys" came by to chat, we started talking about plugs and darned if they hadn't done this for years and already had their plants going in a greenhouse.  And in true form of them, a few hours later, I found some plug flats at my gate for me to use myself to start my own.  I probably will end up purchasing some plants anyways, but hopefully my first year of growing more of our own plants will save me some $$.
We grow pretty much the same things, they now are growing even more than we are because they are leasing more land to have things producing from March clear through November.  But they do not have fruit trees, or herbs or flowers as we do.  Our "markets" of buyers are different yet we help each other out by referring customers who may need produce that we each may not have at the moment-partnerships in the farming business. 
Once both of our fields are planted, we won't see much of each other all through summer/fall with all of us being so busy.  Once a month in the summer, the Silva's have a big lunch time BBQ where they cook either Tri-Tip sandwiches or hamburgers/hot dogs outside the Manzanita Grocery Store.  Great fun where locals stop by, sit at some outside tables and chat about what else?  Water, farming, new rules, the weather, new tractors, new equipment, just fun farming stuff.  After having our lunch, we always stop by next door to the store to see the Maciel family working hard picking, watering, sorting, selling their produce, - just like us.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Flowers & More Flowers-Pruning Poms-New Plans

I have been delayed at getting to my blog, sorry about that.  Who would ever guess here in Gridley, we would have almost 70 degree weather since before Christmas.  Yes, we had those cold nights and some over-cast mornings, but we start out with  sweatshirts in AM and shedding them off by 1:00pm.
With that warm weather means we are working outside here at Windmill Farm.  The wonderful days of sharing Christmas with family, the not so wonderful New Years with blasting music next door until 3:00am (oh did I mention they had blasting music until 3:00am on Christmas Eve too???).  We decided to tackle the pomegranate trees- they had not been pruned for maybe 2 seasons for sure.  They had gotten so full; so tall; so thorny; so weedie; but oh what a great crop of them we had this fall!!!
There are 10 rows, 20 trees in each row.  Frank and I have been weeding, thinning, pruning and cutting the height down-a row a day.  Doesn't seem like a big thing?  Well you know we aren't like these spring chickens that are pecking around the base of the trees in the photos below, you know.  We are now on row 8 and the end is in site.  Two really good things I can say about pomegranate trees though, they don't require a lot of water; nor do they need any kind of dormant sprays or any kind of sprays for that matter.  In the world of horses when we had them, they may have been called "easy keepers".  Except for the thorns.
Here are some photos of befores, during and all cleaned up.

Bug finding by the hens

Annie keeping order with Chickens
The thorns

We have been working on our 2014 CSA plans.  This year, I am planning on raising more and more flowers, along with our vegetables and herbs.  I just can't seem to get enough of flowers.  I want to have some available to sell as early as possible and as late as possible to try and add a little extra revenue to our farm income.  All our farming costs are going up and up-water, fuel, plastic drip tape, valves, equipment, PGE for watering, on and on.  The "added-value" items, like jams, jellies, baked goods are helpful, but they require equipment costs and mostly, my time.  The flowers are planted in same location as our vegetables, so they are tended the same, watered the same as the veggies.  Well, we all needs plans, goals, dreams, so these are mine for this year-more flowers.
I am planting more bulbs, dahlias, glads, ranunculus, but my big push this spring will be planting sweet peas.  Is there any flower, beside peonies, that just invokes such wonderful feelings as the smell of sweet peas?  I have been following a blog-Floret Flowers, incredible farm in the state of Washington.  She had a CSA farm, tore it all out and is now just growing flowers.  The photos of her walking through fields of different flowers blooming is just so inspiring.  She has made a pretty great living for her and her family by just growing flowers-local flowers being sold locally at the grocery stores and markets.  Did you know that the average flower that you see at the markets have traveled more than 1500 miles to get to you?
After going through all my seed catalogs and traveling the Internet, I have purchased my sweet pea seeds, got them soaking and I hope to have them planted in the greenhouse by tomorrow.  I am dreaming of planting them in rows of color, white, pink, purple, rose colored and then mixed, walking through; smelling that sweet smell and picking bunches and bunches.  Are you interested??? I plan on having a CSA-flower membership, bi-weekly delivery of flowers, and on the off-week, can be picked up at the farm.
Well, we still have those last 2 rows to prune.  Funny little personal story about thorns.  Last night Frank and I were watching a movie.  He stopped the movie and asked me to look at his head, it hurt and he thought there was something in it.  I looked and at the top of his head, I pulled out about 3/4" THORN stuck in his scalp!!!  No wonder it hurt. OMG-he said it was there for a few days-what can I say-until next time.